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The starring attraction, a lunar eclipse

The big celestial event this month is a lunar eclipse on Nov. 8. It will begin at 6:34 p.m. when the dark shadow of the Earth first touches the moon. More and more of the moon will disappear, until totality occurs about 8:10 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The eclipse will end at about 10 p.m. when the dark shadow leaves the lunar surface.

The Earth's atmosphere, acting like a lens projecting some light on the moon, will give it a distinctive reddish or orange color during totality.

More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Greeks noticed the round shadow of Earth on the moon during eclipses, giving rise to the belief that Earth was spherical.

Three lunar eclipse events in the Tampa Bay area will enhance your observation. All start at 6:30 p.m. (For details, see information below "At the planetariums.")

Mars remains brilliant, high in the southeast to south when darkness falls. As the Earth moves further ahead of it, the red planet has lost much of the brightness it displayed last summer.

Brilliant Venus is low in the southwest at dusk this month. It rises a little higher in the sky each day and should give us a fine "evening star" in December.

Look for Mercury to the lower right of Venus during the last week of this month. The two pair nicely with a thin crescent moon on Nov. 25. They will be quite low in the southwest at dusk. Saturn rises around 8 p.m. in the east-northeast and is the brightest "star" near the moon a few hours after sunset on Nov. 12 and 13. Jupiter is in the southeast in the predawn sky. Look for it with the crescent moon on the morning of Nov. 18.

Uranus and Neptune are not visible without binoculars or a telescope, but they can be spotted west of Mars. Ask someone at one of the observing events (below) to set their telescope on these planets.

At the planetariums

SCIENCE CENTER OF PINELLAS COUNTY: If skies are clear, the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club will set up its telescopes for free viewing of the night sky from dark until 11 p.m. Free observation of the lunar eclipse at the Science Center (7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg) on Nov. 8 starts at 6:30 p.m. Watch through telescopes as the shadow of the of the Earth races across the lunar craters. Starting at 8 p.m., and for every half-hour until it closes at 10 p.m., the planetarium will give a tour of what is happening during the eclipse for $3 per person.

Learn how to build a telescope at the ongoing classes on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. in the optical laboratory in the annex building (behind the main building). Call (727) 384-0027 or visit www.sciencecenterofpinellas.com.

ST. PETERSBURG COLLEGE: The planetarium at the St. Petersburg campus (Fifth Avenue and 69th Street N) will offer free planetarium shows on Friday nights at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. (except on Nov. 28).

On the evening of Nov. 8, the SPC observatory will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for observing the lunar eclipse. The telescopes also will be turned toward other celestial objects in the night sky. The observatory is located on the roof of the three-story science building.

When the skies are clear, the observatory will be open after the planetarium shows. Call (727) 341-4320.

MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY: "Titanic: the Artifact Exhibit" is well worth seeing. The grand staircase is most impressive, and you may then visit the planetarium to see how the sky looked on that fateful night.

The planetarium is showing "More Than Meets the Eye, Night of the Titanic," and its holiday show "Tis the Season" starts on Nov. 22. The Challenger Learning Center continues with "Journey to Mars."

The IMAX Dome Theater presents The Human Body (through Nov. 20), Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West, Titanica and Ghosts of the Abyss.

There will be a Lunar Eclipse Watch on the IMAX Dome Theater from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 8. Reservations are recommended.

The astronomy club offers free telescope viewing tonight and Nov. 29 at dusk, weather permitting. Call (813) 987-6100 or visit www.mosi.org.

Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.

Viewers should see a spectacular lunar eclipse the evening of Nov. 8.

Brilliant Venus, Mercury and a thin crescent moon form a beautiful trio in the southwest after sunset.

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